2017 was a watershed moment of sorts for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, with many women (and men) coming forward to report inappropriate behavior by their superiors that long went unacknowledged. The wave of accusations that have come out in recent months has spread to seemingly every corner of our society—the media, the entertainment industry, and even Capitol Hill. We have previously published an article outlining the various civil actions available to victims of sexual abuse, but, in this post, we will define what behavior constitutes sexual harassment and what to do about it if it happens to you.
What Behavior Constitutes Sexual Harassment?
Under federal law, there are two forms of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment requires that a person in authority demands that subordinates tolerate sexual harassment as a condition of getting or keeping a job or job benefit, including promotions and raises. Hostile work environment harassment is grounds for legal action when the conduct is unwelcome, based on sex, and severe or pervasive enough to create an abusive or offensive work environment. Courts analyze several elements in determining whether a hostile environment harassment claim is valid, including:
- Whether the conduct was verbal, physical, or both;
- The frequency of the conduct;
- Whether the conduct was hostile or patently offensive;
- Whether the alleged harasser was a co-worker or supervisor;
- Whether others joined in perpetrating the harassment; and
- Whether the harassment was directed at more than one individual or singled out the victim.
A single instance of harassment is sufficient to sustain a quid pro quo claim, while a pattern of harassment is required to qualify as a hostile work environment.
What to Do if You Are a Victim of Sexual Harassment
If you are a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, there are several steps you should take to attempt to end it and preserve evidence for future litigation, if necessary.
- Personally inform the harasser that his or her actions are offensive
Telling a person directly that their actions are offensive is difficult, but it is often the most effective way to end the harassment. Many times, harassers are not aware that their behavior or words are inappropriate. If you are uncomfortable facing your harasser in person, a letter or email will also suffice.
- Make a Human Resources complaint
If speaking to the harasser does not work, then you should file an official complaint with your employer’s HR department. When doing this, make sure that you follow your company’s procedures and guidelines exactly. Failure to follow company procedures could damage your case in court if it makes it that far.
- Write everything down
Documentation does not end with keeping emails and memos to co-workers and supervisors. You should write down each instance of harassment as they happen. This includes specific information, in addition to date and time, such as the people involved, onlookers if any, their reactions, how the event made you feel and affected your work and general well being, etc. Keeping a journal of such events will strengthen your case and allow you to recall events clearly without worrying about forgetting or misremembering details.
- Talk to an attorney
Often, victims of sexual harassment are unsure of whether their claim has any force. For example, a male coworker has made what sounds to you like a sexual innuendo, but you can’t be sure. However, this same individual has made similarly inappropriate comments toward women in the past. Is it harassment? An experienced attorney can help you make that determination.
Contact an Atlanta Personal Injury Attorney
While sexual harassment is a crime, it can also form the basis of civil liability for the harasser. If you have suffered sexual harassment or abuse at work, contact the attorneys at Slappey & Sadd for a free consultation to discuss your case by calling 404.255.6677. We serve the entire state of Georgia, including the following locations: Atlanta, Roswell, and Sandy Springs.